As you might have learned from past posts, video games are among my non-writing interests.
Among the video games I quote most often is a little title called Little Misfortune.
I’ve taken to quoting the game in everyday conversation, often saying “Yikes Forever” or (admittedly poorly) attempting the titular character’s accent with a heartfelt “Fancaaaay.”
Another favorite quip is, “I’m a little lady, you know.”
In the game, this one often follows a choice made by the player, though I just throw it around with no particular reason and often in an ironic sense.
The frequency of my using this line in everyday conversation has gotten me thinking about what being a “little lady” means, especially in the Regency Era when a woman was expected to be the delicate epitome of etiquette. Since a lot of my characters are expected to fall in line with these conventions, I’ve been looking through books on the subject that were written in the time period and there were plenty of things that had my eyebrows raising and had me being glad that the rules are generally not as strict as they were two hundred years ago. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights I’ve found in my research.
These are all entries from How to Behave : a pocket manual of etiquette, and guide to correct personal habits, first published in the 1850s (so a little bit after the end of the Georgian Era and closer to the Victorian Era).
As its preface notes, this book is geared towards American readers, saying it is, “for the use of the young people of our great Republic, whom it is designed to aid in becoming, what we are convinced they all desire to be, true American ladies and gentlemen.”
However, it may be assumed that many of these ideals are taken from an inspired by English books of a similar nature.
Books like this are great primary sources to examine because it provides an insight as to what was expected in society in this time period. In the case of an etiquette book, I imagine this would have been given to a young lady or gentleman well before their emergence into society so that when they did make their debut, there would be little doubt they indeed belonged there.
I’ll be skipping over the entries most of us are familiar with, like sitting up straight and general cordialities, and will instead be concentrating on a handful of entries I have found to be especially interesting.
“Avoid even the slightest appearance of trifling with the feelings of a woman. A female coquette is bad enough. A male coquette ought to be banished from society. Let there be a clearly perceived, if not an easily define, distinction between the attentions of common courtesy or of friendship and those of love…Your special attentions to her in society should not be such as to make her or you the subject of ridicule. Make no public exhibition of your endearments.”
As a romance reader and writer, this is something I think authors love playing with. Though not always in such a dramatic fashion as something like a forbidden romance, pursuing a romantic relationship while maintaining the discreet demeanor expected of young gentlemen and ladies can make for excellent plotlines and provide such a rewarding feeling when the lovebirds are at last together.
With so many rules in place, how do you work around them? There are endless possibilities here and they can be so much fun to explore.
“Show, but do not show off, your children to strangers. Recollect, in the matter of children, how many are born every hour, each one almost as remarkable as yours in the eyes of its papa and mamma.”
This is another one I think can at times be applied to a modern-day setting. We all know those parents who try to one-up each other when it comes to their children and parenting methods, both in person and on social media.
My little Julia’s started walking. She’s only ten months old!
So? My Timmy was walking by the time he was nine months!
This one can be hard to avoid. While I don’t have any children, I do talk about my cat as though he were my son, especially when in conversation with other cat parents. It’s not usually in the interest of bragging about him as it sometimes seems to be when discussing the accomplishments of human children, but I know that plenty of people aren’t all that interested in him.
That said, it is interesting to see that cliche of mothers in that time period making it a point to flaunt how accomplished their daughters are once they are out and husband-hunting with this note in mind!
“The husband should never cease to be a lover, or fail in any of those delicate attentions and tender expressions of affectionate solicitude which marked his intercourse before marriage with his heart’s queen. All the respectful deference, every courteous observance, all the self-sacrificing devotion that can be claimed by a sweetheart is certainly due to a wide, and he is no true husband and no true gentleman who withholds them. It is not enough that you honour, respect, and love your wife. You must put this honour, respect, and love into forms of speech and action.”
This one stuck out to me because of the way many of us perceive time periods like the Regency and Georgian eras. We all hear about how a woman must be a devoted wife and Heaven forbid she cheat on her husband, meanwhile the husband is often perceived as being able to keep a mistress with no questions asked—or basically do anything he pleases while the woman remains at home with the children.
It’s refreshing to see notes like this in a book on etiquette.
“The ‘engaged’ need not take particular pains to proclaim the nature of the relation in which they stand to each other, neither should they attempt or desire to conceal it. Their intercourse with each other should be frank and confiding, but prudent, and their conduct in reference to other persons of the opposite sex, such as will not give occasion for a single pang of jealousy.”
When I came across this entry, my mind immediately shifted to the way some couples, at least in my circle, conduct themselves on social media.
I’m speaking as a younger Millennial who set up her Facebook profile in high school because that was just what you did. Nowadays, my feed gets filled with memes and such, but also with plenty of posts about my friends’ relationships.
I’m not against sharing these updates, especially significant milestones like anniversaries or engagements or moving into your first home together, but there are some who share too much and too often.
For a while, there was a former classmate posting photos of her and her boyfriend daily, followed by several rants about him and what he did wrong and such after they broke up, some posts about how she missed him but didn’t because she was done with dating and looking for something real, and then a few weeks later there would be a new guy in those photos. It was cyclical.
This individual also developed a habit of deleting her Facebook and creating a new one when a new relationship started because she “wanted everyone to know how happy” she was with the (new) “love of her life.”
I stopped accepting her friend requests after a while.
On a similar note, I knew a couple who were both very share-y about their relationship on social media, always posting about where they went on dates and the like. When they both changed their relationship status to Single, their individual posts were flooded with comments left by people expressing their condolences or offering support, but also seemed intent on figuring out what happened.
One guy saying something like, “Come on, we’ve been along for the ride this long at least tell us who F—ed up! Don’t leave us with this cliffhanger!”
As you may expect, both halves of this failed relationship proceeded to snap at these commenters saying it was not any of their business and to leave them alone.
Which it wasn’t, of course, but having made so much of their relationship had been made public knowledge, people expected the fallout would be given the same treatment.
In all fairness, I also know plenty of older couples engaging in similar practices.
On the whole, it’s perfectly fine to keep people updated on what’s going on, especially in a day and age where social media is often our primary way of connecting with loved ones. But at the same time, there is something to be said for sharing too much to the point of bombarding your followers.
Do What You Are About
“Hoc age was a maxim among the Romans, which means, ‘Do what you are about, and do that only.’ A little mind is hurried by twenty things at once, but a man of sense does but one thing at a time, and resolves to excel in it; for whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Therefore, remember to give yourself up entirely to the thing you are doing, be it what it may, whether your book or your play; for if you have a right ambition, you will desire to excel all boys of your age, at cricket, at trap-ball, as well as in learning.”
This one, I think, speaks for itself.
How to Behave is just one of several research materials I refer to regarding general societal norms of the past. There is a good chance I might write a similar posts in the future drawing from other sources and perhaps concentrating on more specific areas.
If there are any particular topics you would be interested in seeing me look into and giving my take on, let me know down below!